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Green fingers | Eco gardens

Green fingers | Eco gardens

As the world continues to shift towards a more conscious and eco-friendly way of living, so sustainable practices filter into every aspect of our lives. And while gardening is by default green, there are ways to make it lighter on the earth, such as water-wise and indigenous planting, eco-friendly materials and urban planting. This needn’t mean sacrificing your design ideals – in fact, some eco-conscious gardening solutions push the boundaries on an aesthetic level as well as an environmental one, furthering the visual agenda while fostering better solutions.


Zen is Now

Green spaces enhance more than just the physical space around us – they improve our psychological wellbeing too, reducing stress and reconnecting us to nature. These two beautiful examples illustrate the value of adding greenery to your life.


This project by Japanese firm Schemata Architects transformed an old steel building in Tokyo, originally used as a factory, into a studio and workspace for artist Hiroko Takahashi. On the third floor is the artist’s personal space, a greenhouse that has decorative indoor plants as well as the room and facilities to grow edible plants. This modern, urban approach is indicative of the direction the world is going in – where outdoor gardens are not always possible, people are looking to alternative means of incorporating nature, as well as becoming more self-sustaining.


Roll with It

Look beyond the obvious when it comes to ways to garden with a conscience. Using discarded items and ‘waste’ innovatively to create planters, beds and structures for growing plants on is a way of recycling for the benefit of the garden. Win win. Here, tyres are stacked and used as sturdy planters on an old tennis court.



1. Indigenius

The simplest, easiest and arguably best way to garden greenly is to plant indigenous. Innately adapted to the climate, soil and conditions you’ll be planting them in, indigenous species thrive without the need for additional care and as a result are lighter on resources. Take this a step further in consideration of the preciousness of water, and the occasional scarcity of it in South Africa, and plant water-wise varieties that do well on minimal watering and in the harshest conditions. This Magaliesberg garden (which you can also find in Remarkable Gardens of South Africa) features a multitude of succulents – including 35 species of South African aloes and 15 species of euphorbia – and illustrates that even within the scope of succulent planting there is huge variety to be had.



2. Upwardly Mobile

Far from merely an aesthetic architectural treatment, living walls have numerous benefits for the environment and the inhabitants of buildings themselves. From purifying air and insulation (and resulting decreased energy costs) to sound absorbtion, these vertical gardens enhance the quality of their surroundings. This striking example in Lisbon by RA Architectural and Design Studio has walls that are completely covered with vegetation, creating a vertical garden filled with around 4 500 plants from 25 different Iberian and Mediterranean varieties. This 100 square metres of urban greenery not only creates a green lung in a built-up area, but a connection to nature in the midst of the city.



3. Rock Star

Also part of the Magaliesberg rock garden from (1), these graphic ponds shows it’s not only possible but aesthetically pleasing to create water features without surrounding them with high-maintenance plants that require watering – the ultimate instance of water-wise design. They resemble natural rock pools, adding to the organic aesthetic of the garden, where naturally occurring elements (fallen trees, branches, rocks and indigenous plants) have been sculpted into adornments and artworks and celebrate the ‘natural cycles of life and death’.



4. High on Life

Designed by Australian firm Hassell Studio, in collaboration with the University of Melbourne’s Burnley Campus, the Burnley Living Roofs demonstrates innovative use of green-roof technology and urban horticultural practices to create an interactive garden space. The bold design serves the dual purpose of creating an aesthetically appealing environment, and at the same time furthering research on the possibilities for urban planting. As Hassell Studio explains it, ‘These green interventions can cool the urban environment, reduce energy consumption, mitigate flooding and increase habitats for biodiversity.’



Offering a glimpse behind the walls of 20 of South Africa’s most beautiful private gardens, Remarkable Gardens of South Africa (Quivertree Publications, R650) is the combined effort of photographer Craig Fraser and writer Nini Bairnsfather Cloete who, through their engaging text and rich imagery, capture the intriguing histories and gorgeous scenery of these special spaces.



Birds and Bees

A big part of eco-conscious gardening is encouraging and supporting the existing eco systems. This extends from planting bird and bee-attracting plants (by virtue of their scent or fruit), and including water sources for bird, animal and insect life to drink from, to taking an even more proactive approach and actually adding life to the garden. In this garden, bee houses foster a bee population which in turn helps to pollinate plants.



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Text: Julia Freemantle
Photographs: Shiori Kawamoto, Craig Fraser, Peter Bennett and supplied


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